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The void I feel after losing my baby will never, ever be filled

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Writing a book was therapeutic for Siobhan O'Neill-White after she suffered a miscarriage. Picture by Ronan Lang

Writing a book was therapeutic for Siobhan O'Neill-White after she suffered a miscarriage. Picture by Ronan Lang

Writing a book was therapeutic for Siobhan O'Neill-White after she suffered a miscarriage. Picture by Ronan Lang

It all started with one drop of blood. I don't mean to sound pessimistic, as many women bleed in their pregnancies and things progress normally, but in my case, I knew it was the beginning of the end. This was my second pregnancy; I already had a healthy little baby boy and despite not having any problems with him, this time it felt different.

Despite my husband's best efforts at optimism and despite all reasoning from our doctor, family and friends, I just knew it was going to happen. My heart was already breaking.

After two days of bleeding and more worry than I had ever known in my life, the doctor at the hospital found a heartbeat. Our joy was short-lived as he blurted out that the baby was too small, the heartbeat weak and that "it's probably a miscarriage that hasn't happened yet".

The shock of his words was almost too much to take. Not only did we have to digest the shattering news that we were losing our baby but we had to deal with how the news was delivered -- without eye contact, sympathy or any trace of human kindness. Doctors may be busy people, but I don't think there is ever a time for them to be inhumane -- especially when telling expectant parents they are losing their baby.

Devastated by the whole ordeal, we headed for a different hospital on the other side of the city. Surely, things would be better there? Initially they were nice, telling us not to lose hope and booking us an early pregnancy scan. However, the nightmare worsened later that night, as the unmistakable contractions started. Along with a great deal of blood, these pains meant the end was near.

We rushed to the hospital in a daze but when we finally got into the emergency room, the real nightmare began. Hospital policy stated that husbands or partners were not allowed into the emergency room, unless a baby was being born in a hurry.

Although I was in labour and technically giving birth because it was a miscarriage, my husband was forced to sit outside in the waiting area. He was outside, imagining the worst and I was inside, alone, going through a painful and distressing labour without his hand to hold. We have since complained about this hospital policy but no one has ever replied to us.

Going home the next day, I felt hollow. Family members tried to comfort me but I would not let them. I was not sad, I was angry. Why had this happened? We didn't deserve this. There was no way to know why, at 12 weeks, our baby had died.

The lack of answers and explanations made me question everything I had done over the previous 12 weeks. Was it my fault somehow?

The next few months were awful. My husband cried while I was festering with pent-up frustration. When he cried it annoyed me, perhaps because he was openly grieving for our baby, when I could not shed one tear. After two months of no communicating, as I went deeper into myself, staying away from friends and family, my husband begged me to talk to someone professional.

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There was a hospital counsellor so I went to see her -- only to shut him up. Never for one second did I think I needed to go. In fact, I deliberately wore lots of mascara to my appointment, so determined was I not to cry. I still cannot understand my resistance to grieve but I suspect it was my way of avoiding the pain that I knew was to come. It was so great and I was terrified I would not be able to bear it, so I buried it and tried to ignore it.

Going to the counsellor was the best thing for me. I opened up to her about how I was feeling and she made the wonderful suggestion that I keep a diary and write into it every day, always ending on a positive note. This diary was the catalyst I had been waiting for.

I never expected anyone to read it so I was unashamedly honest in what I wrote. I detailed my feelings, holding nothing back. I wrote about my anger, upset and feelings of abandonment and betrayal at the hands of the cruel hospital policy that forced me to go through losing my baby alone. I realised I was very angry about that. I also realised I was not actually angry with my family and friends; I was simply taking it out on them.

As I wrote into the diary I started to feel good again. Every day I got a little bit better. I was able to get everything off my chest. Things I felt I could not say aloud, I wrote down. It was exhilarating. Then one day my husband asked if he could read it.

Knowing I had written some pretty horrendous things about him I warned him he might not like it. He said he wouldn't mind so I relented.

Afterwards, with tears in his eyes he simply came over and hugged me and we cried together for our lost baby.

That night we talked for hours and he came up with the idea that I should turn my diary into a book. He claimed "It is so raw and honest; I've never read anything like it. You could help a lot of women who are suffering like you did."

I thought about this and then I thought about him. He had been left out at the hospital -- not even getting updates although he asked several times.

The hospital counselling service was not offered to him. People rang the house and sent cards, mostly asking about me, often forgetting that it was his baby too. He was hurting as much as I was but it seemed that his pain was less important to everyone. This did not sit well with me so I suggested we write the book together. He is not a natural writer but he agreed to do it.

We decided to divide each chapter into an account of my thoughts and feelings and then his thoughts and feelings. Our book, We Lost Our Baby, is simply an honest recollection of what happened to us, how we felt and how we eventually learned to cope and get on with life.

We had searched for books on miscarriage but found only one which was very medical and statistical and did not help us come to terms with the pain of our loss. It did not answer the questions we needed answered: such as, "Do other people react this way?" and "Did losing a baby put a serious strain on other people's relationships too?"

Before we lost our baby we could never have imagined sharing such personal inner thoughts with complete strangers. However, knowing that people who would buy the book would have been affected by miscarriage, whether it happened to them personally or to a family member or friend, gave us the courage to share our story.

It is a small book but is helping people and that is all we wanted. We have received cards, letters and emails from old schoolfriends, who we had not heard from in years but they had been through losing babies too, had read the book and wrote to say thanks. That was amazing for us. We have received letters from Donegal, Kerry and all the way from the US, where people have been ordering the book online from our publisher, The Liffey Press. www.theliffeypress.com

Although writing the book was therapeutic, I felt the only way to fill the void in me was to get pregnant again. Luckily for me, I went on to have two wonderful little girls. They give me so much joy but I have to admit, the void I felt was never filled. It could not and should not be. I will always feel sad about the baby we lost but that's OK. I have learned to live with it and I think of our baby every time I look out my kitchen window and see the tree that stands there in memory.

As well as writing the book, the other good thing to come out of all this was meeting the wonderful people at the Miscarriage Association of Ireland. They were very supportive of our book and to us, as grieving parents.

June O'Toole, chairperson of the association says: "We are here to listen and offer support. All our volunteers have been personally affected by miscarriage so they really do understand how callers feel. In addition to our website and phone service, we host monthly support meetings. These are open to anyone affected by miscarriage. They allow people to talk, in a confidential atmosphere, about their experience in the company of others who truly understand."

If you have been affected by miscarriage and need someone to talk to, there is support available from the Miscarriage Association at 01-8735702; info@miscarriage.ie, or www.miscarriage.ie, or at the next monthly support meeting tomorrow, from 8pm to 9.30pm, in Buswells Hotel, Molesworth Street, Dublin 2.

We Lost Our Baby is available from most good bookstores or directly from The Liffey Press at www.theliffeypress.com


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